Monthly Archives: September 2012

BROTHERS IN CHARMS Rufus Wainwright & Mark Ronson (Pt. 2)

We continue our conversation with the singer-songwriter –
whose US tour has just started – along with his producer Mark Ronson. Go here for Part 1.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Mark Ronson has produced warm
retro R&B pop hit records for Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. Rufus
Wainwright makes a denser operatic brand of popular music. On Out of the Game, the pair produced
something in-between with an emphasis on the poppier side of things.

 

BLURT: Did you guys know and meet each other casually
before you started to work together?

MARK RONSON: I was in a suit. I’m
never casual.

     RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: We were in the same
nightclub. He looked great in that suit. He always wears a suit. Me, I was very
casually dressed. I just wanted to hang out with him to start.

     MR: We share a lot of friends. I always felt
he was someone I should know, someone I’d enjoy being around. When it finally
happened we quickly knew that we’d have a bond. I have an instinct for these
things.  That’s why when we got in the
studio together, it was… immediate, you know? I remember being blown away by
seeing him at Glastonbury when he did the Judy (Garland) show. I admired
his balls for playing Judy.

     RW: The balls of having no balls.

     MR: In front of 40, 000 people at an
outdoor festival. That was something.

 

Was there something specific that you wanted from the other
guy?

RW: I’m at this point in my
life-I’m 38-where I’m trying to be a pop star, not the most famous person in
the world, but to make something more out of what I’m already doing. By the
same token I have an extremely successful, critically acclaimed career. That
side needed to be appeased as well. Mark was the full package in tending to
both sides. He has success and he’s an artist. Sonically, I wanted the warmth
and depth that he provides. I’ve
been looking for that for a while.

     MR: I just had a feeling. It wasn’t just
something I wanted to pull from him. He’s got strange chords and odd time
signatures. He has such gorgeous melodies, to say nothing of that voice. I
almost couldn’t imagine what he could want from me-HE is the full package! But
there was a shot at critical credibility that he could provide me and that
interested me.

 

You both used each other. Do each of you have a manner that
you work that was challenged by the other?

RW: Oh very much so. First off, we
did it in a very short time period-a month of recording, really. It was very
quick. Also, when he’s mixing, he usually likes to do it by himself. At one
point I just came into the rerecording suite while he was working and he smiled
and said, “Rufus I feel really uncomfortable with you in here.” Very sweet. I
left. I was apprehensive that that was how he worked. Yet when I returned to
the suite I was blown away by what I heard. It was so fast we had to develop a
new language. No time to get personal or be hurt with little ego things. We
were on a mission. That haste helped the songs, I think.
     MR: After producing his own records
and doing that opera,, I thought he might be ready to relinquish something [laughs] That said, every idea he had was the best one in the room-the
orchestral arrangements, especially. I knew I might not always be in my comfort
zone but that was good.

 

Mark, you use the Dap-Kings as a painter would his palette.
Was there a different set of instructions for them this time out?

MR: There were, actually. The
stuff we did, say for Amy, was a sound of the ‘60s, the drums, the snap of the
horns. The tempos. With Rufus, it was more Laurel Canyon
with the sounds of the drums… softer, warmer. The guitar work on the title
tune and “Sometimes You Need” was very George Harrison sounding. I think the
Kings were challenged and excited.

     RW: They did get a little nervous though
when I asked if they’d consider changing their name to the Dap Queens [laughs]

 

Because you guys had discussed it being such an up-tempo
album, something slow like “Candles” must have come as a surprise. How did that
change the game?

RW: That was the first track we
recorded actually – the only vocal I never touched after the demo. It was
pretty grueling and emotional. I have to say as well that Mark relinquished
much of the reins to me on that one.

     MR: I knew that Rufus had an exact idea of
how it should and his instincts were spot on. Sounds like you agree as well.
That tune was really instant.

 

What’s the song that warranted the most work, the most of
your involvement?

MR: From start to finish, I‘d say
“Rashida.” It was so much a piano song and as it grew it took on more of that
Queen style grandeur. “Jericho”
was pretty involving, too.

     RW: For me, because it was really a
meeting of our minds, totally on the same page. “Sometimes You Need.” I was
worried that I wanted to make every song radio friendly and Mark really
respected my particular form of neurosis and let it run wild on that song

 

I know you enjoyed each others sound and sartorial
splendor. What else stood out?

MR: His punctuality makes me uncomfortable.
I don’t like anyone getting to the studio before me.

     RW: I’d say his indestructible hair-do. It
never moved.

 

 

Go here to view Rufus Wainwright’s North American tour
itinerary.

 

[Photo Credit: Gary Nadeau]

 

 

DANCE WITH THE DEVIL Rufus Wainwright (Pt. 1)

It’s
make-or-break time. Can the celebrated songwriter add “pop star” to his
resume with his Mark Ronson-produced album – and national tour, starting
this weekend?

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Rufus Wainwright looks slightly nervous.

 

The curtain just went down on the magnificent American debut
of his first-ever opera, Prima Donna,
at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Wainwright’s heading upstairs to greet his
well-est wishers. To a (wo)man, each member of that assembly, yours truly
included, will marvel aloud about how Wainwright embraced the traditions of
classic opera-with but a few melodic nods to modernists such as Glass-to tell
the story of an aging diva soprano seeking to make her grand comeback only to
be stymied by an overbearing manager and a self-loving music journalist with
whom she’s become smitten with.

 

To a crowd featuring his show’s cast, father Loudon
Wainwright III, aunt Anna McGarrigle (the sister to Rufus’ mom, the late great
Kate) and his fiancé Jörn Weisbrodt, as well as friends Lou Reed and Laurie
Anderson, Rufus stands confidently, his back to the steaming sunlight pouring
through BAM’s lengthy cathedral windows, at a rostrum and begins to speak.
Dressed like toreador as outfitted by Jean Paul Gaultier, he discusses the long
process of getting Prima Donna to
U.S. stages, its future with three other opera companies, and how he can now go
about the business of being a husband and a father to his new baby, Viva
Katherine Wainwright Cohen (whose mother is Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca
Cohen, therefore making Viva the most talented child on the planet).

 

He forgot to mention pop star. Maybe that’s why, behind his
cocksure smile, he looks anxious. To Wainwright, after eight critically
acclaimed operatic albums, including a live jaunt and his legendary tribute to
Judy Garland (to say nothing of a career-assessing all-inclusive, rarity-packed
19-disc box set), and a life of complex musicality and lyricism, there is a
crossroads to behold: the notion that, at 38, he’s at an artistic impasse. His
records don’t sell in the millions despite his massive talent.

Wainwright’s dam (or is it deal) breaker? Out
of the Game
, his most effortlessly open, soulful and poppy effort produced
by hitmaker Mark Ronson and featuring the talents of the brassy Dap-Kings
ensemble. It’s a warm and wonderful affair and their unified goal is to make a
smash-selling success from Wainwright’s plaintive oboe-like croon and
complicated tunesmith-ing, with danceable songs about his mother, his daughter,
his publicist, death, life and love finally requited.

 

“I’m pretty much geared to do anything to make this album a
success,” says Wainwright the morning after Prima
Donna
‘s debut. “A lot of opera houses are interested, four cities to start,
and that is a huge compliment. I can let that happen while I get back to my
bread and butter. Out of the Game is
where all my efforts are going to be.”

 

No wonder he looked distressed.

 

 


Out of the Game by Rufus Wainwright

 

 

POPERA

On the morning after Prima Donna‘s
Brooklyn debut, Wainwright is bouncing between giving last minute notes to his
opera’s cast, crew and directors and packing for a trek through Europe to pre-promote the upcoming Out of the Game. He can’t get the opera off his mind. It’s
something he wanted to do since childhood. Inspired to make a staged diva-mentary
after watching a film of the legendary Maria Callas, Wainwright is still in awe
of her, the opera and his own rich accomplishments.

 

“I was absolutely summoned by the characters in this piece,”
says Wainwright, preoccupied by the room’s buzz of activity. “When I watched
Callas talking about the lonely life of a singer it all of a sudden hit me-an
opera about an opera singer. It was a guttural reaction what I wrote, a
commandment to go forth and give birth to this.” Wainwright wasn’t looking to
write, for his first opera, a War and
Peace
type epic. He wanted something romantic, something recognizable, beautiful.
“I’d do it again,” he laughs.

 

Where the recognizable is concerned I have to tease him
about the possible relish he took in making the journalist in Prima Donna a dolt, a preening
self-obsessed provoker in the face of such love from the opera’s lead “Madam
Regine” as she’s preparing her emotional return to the stage following a long
period of being away from the game. Wainwright begins to laugh long and
continuously throughout his response. “My testy presentation of the journalist
was a bit of a time bomb and what that would evoke from the press,” he says.
“But not one of the bad reviews-or good ones, even-mentioned the fact that the
journalist wants to be a singer or how I handled him. I find that very
revealing. That said, he’s villainous, not a baaaaaaaaad person, per se, but an example of fans and press people
that I have met-certainly not all, don’t get me wrong-but those overly effected
by fame. They love the excitement of it all. They want to be part of the
action.”

 

Wainwright does acknowledge, though, that he’s long been a
critical darling. Surely, ever since his eponymous 1998 debut with its top
notch production (Jon Brion, Van Dyke Parks) based upon his near-classic demos
(found in the House of Rufus box set),
Wainwright’s been adored by the press. Industry wonks too long salivated over
the handsome son of Loudon and Kate who had written his first songs at age 14
when his childhood tunes appeared in Canadian films. When he got to L.A. with his first batch
of songs, Wainwright was placed into a studio with money and time at his
disposal. The results of that1998 album and its equally potent 2001 follow-up, Poses, showed the sort of weird-pop
prowess that would mesmerize even the most jaded journalist. The clash of
environments and that he’s not comfortable remaining in one fixed orbit aside,
“they’ve been very enthusiastic, the pop and the opera press,” he says.

 

Yet, the idea behind making Out of the Game, beyond crafting his usual retinue of hypnotically
entrancing songs with intense lyrical themes and haunting elastic vocals, is to
go beyond just critical recognition and make the most of all things Rufus.

 

 


Song Of You by Rufus Wainwright

 

 

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

 

Wainwright started a year of intensity with House of Rufus, a 19 disc box set of all
of his albums, rarities, first album demos, familial pairings, DVDs (including Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! Does Judy! Judy! Judy!:
Live from the London Palladium
and Prima
Donna: The Making of an Opera
) and film and television songs (yes to covers
“I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” from The Aviator, “King of the Road” from Brokeback Mountain and “Bewitched, Bothered and
Bewildered” from The History Boys;
no, though, to What are You Doing
New Year’s Eve?” from his Gap ads). It shows off the highest ever level of
introspection and retrospection-not to mention he’s too young for such a
package. Wainwright even took time off from recording Out of the Game to perform a five-night residency at the Royal
Opera House in London
to promote the release of House of Rufus.

 

“I don’t know what that says about me that I was willing to
look back and take stock at what’s happened so that now I can move onto the
next phase-or not,” he laughs. “I’m at some sort of apex in my career. That’s
exciting. The new album is a big move for me – my major shot.” Wainwright is
investing a lot of emotion and care into the new album. Not that he hasn’t been
careful with the other albums; but this one, he says, weighs heavier on every
part of him. “I have to go out there and do whatever it is I have to make a
success of this. You can only pour your heart out there so many times-it is
always sincere and heartfelt-but it makes me vulnerable. With that, you have to
take care of yourself.” He sounds strained when he say this. “I have always
taken great risks and have always exposed myself; I think this time I’ll be
rewarded for my efforts, but it is quite a task.”

 

For a guy who sounds so willing to go for the gold (or the
platinum), the song “Out of the Game” talks about getting away from it all,
eschewing stardom for sanity and leaving the limelight so to find stillness as
well as missing his youthful days of being obsessed about everything. So to, to
an extent, does the idea of leaving the wild coasts for the solace of
“Montauk.” When you think about it, Prima
Donna,
too, is about the greatest of disappearing acts. Why is Wainwright
toying with departures at a time when he’s preparing to give pop stardom its
biggest shot?

“Well, I‘ve been doing this professionally since the age of 13-arguably I was
touring earlier than that with my mother. In terms of my parents’ career, I saw
a drop off in appreciation of who they were and what they did for a time. Now
that all got rectified and respect finally came, but for both of them, I’ve
seen times where we had to stay at Motel 8’s with just a few bucks to support
the children. It’s a hard life.” He pauses. You can hear him thinking if he has
said too much. “I know the other side of it is all. It’s not like with my fancy
friends Sean Lennon and Adam Cohen. Their parents were always OK, always in the
mainstream. My parents had to struggle for a long time.” He pushes out a laugh.
“Then again, I don’t know, a lot of it, too, is tongue is cheek. Who’s leaving,
right? I’m putting my best foot forward.”

 

 


Jericho by Rufus Wainwright

 

GETTING GAME

Along with bringing Mark Ronson’s hot sound to bear on his newest songs [see sidebar], Wainwright’s idea of what Out
of the Game
would be was shaped by its elegiac predecessor, the mournful All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu of
2010 that was dedicated, in part, to his recently deceased mother. His new
album’s genesis would therefore become about enjoying life while it lasts.
“It’s a sad happiness,” he snickers “that comes with my mother’s death and the
birth of my daughter. I really see how, whether it’s your health, your work or
your happiness, you have to enjoy it now. There is desperation in that, I know
but there is also truth. It’s like at the end of Prima Donna where I say the fireworks are over and they don’t last
every long [laughs] That’s where I’m
at now.”

 

Where he’s at, sonically, is varied. “Welcome to the Ball,”
the new album’s oldest song, is manically classical and was once intended for a
Broadway musical. The rolling arpeggios of “Montauk” sound like the Philip
Glass-like elements of his opera. There are danceable soul-pop bits, and the
glam rock spirits of David Bowie at his Young
Americans
best, Elton John in his Tumbleweed
Connection
Los Angeles-by-way-of-Louisiana finest and Queen linger
throughout. Beyond the work of Ronson and his crew, this was Wainwright writing
for his big pop experiment. “This record was about getting it front of as many
eyes and ears as possible with all the silly little games you have to play to
be in the game-heck, I’ve tried everything else-so I gleaned from those who have
been successful in the past that I can relate to and broaden it. It’s fey ‘70s
rock ‘n’ roll stars…. yet it’s me.”

 

Very him. There might be grand Queen-styled swells and Bowie-esque
swoons, but Out of the Game is still
a Wainwright-y bright universe of verbal and lyrical tics. Odd that he mentions
sounding danceable with that inspiration, as the album is hardly dubstep or
underground trance. Wainwright laughs about not keeping up with the kids’
musical palette. “Sad to say, I don’t listen to much. I appreciate Lady
Gaga’s… hmm, bravery… but I don’t think she’s got a song to stand on. [laughs] I see the appeal [but] I’m
pretty detached. I guess if this album cracks the charts I’ll head to the
festivals and re-introduce myself to the teens and hope I make it out in one
piece.”

 

Lyrically, Wainwright also seems to be trying to make it
through in one piece. As he never thought of himself in a monogamous
relationship for long, having a fiancé and a child is something difficult to
consider yet sounds so easy on “Montauk” and “Song of You.” He’s used to
penning lyrics about love unrequited and running away from relationships. “Love
is treacherous and becomes arduous. The honeymoon is over after a certain time.
How do you make it fresh? Right? But when lighting strikes with a new
perspective on the world-the real love that you have and share-you run with it.
I’m on it now.” Wainwright claims his life and lyrical switch comes down to
needing moral and spiritual support, loved ones to come home to. “I can’t do
this alone,” he says. “Children grow up so fast.” Yet those same tunes embrace
the spirit of his late mother as well as his sweet newborn. That “Montauk” and
“Candles” bring about the figure of his child and his mother stems from the
fact that the birth and death came so close together. “I’m in shock still about
having had a child, for better or for worse. I’m very happy but it all happened
at the same time, that birth and that death, so it’s very mixed up for me. The
stakes are higher now.”

 

The life stakes are higher and the work stakes are higher.
Wainwright not only has to deal with the responsibility, he wants to. He plans to make himself
available to all those outlets he had previously shut down. Will he go on Dancing with the Stars? He shouts, “I’ll
do that. I’ll dance with stars. I’ll dance with a bear. I’ll dance with the
devil.”

 

There’s a new level of competition to be considered in the
Wainwright household and, as only he can, his fangs do come up when required.
“I appreciate other people’s success and don’t take it personally that’s it’s
not happening when it ain’t. The moment. But I want my due. I know there is
resistance and that’s frustrating. Maybe I’m delusional. But I don’t want to
become a bitter dissatisfied old queen or create a barrier. I have to maneuver
my way around that.”

 

There is one thing to consider, though, regarding Out of the Game‘s successes. No, he
won’t comment on or even think about a downside. Yet that wasn’t what I was
suggesting. What if it is a smash and the chameleon who has crafted such an
intimate melodic brand of art-pop has to stay in one skin and continue to stamp
out more hits?

 

“I want it to happen very badly, you know that. Yet this
sort of success”-he laughs hard as he says this-“could be the worst thing to
ever happen to me.”

 

 

To be continued…
tomorrow, a conversation with Wainwright and producer Ronson. Wainwright’s
national tour also starts this weekend in Big Sur then Seattle – tour dates can be found here.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Barry J. Holmes]

 

HERE’S HOW HANK MIGHT DO IT TODAY Jim Byrnes

 

You want some classic-style Nashville country? How about a Canadian
bluesman’s authentic take on it?

 

BY REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

 

To
hardcore fans of the genre, it’s no surprise that country music just ain’t what
it used to be. Sure, the great Willie Nelson has outlived all his old friends
to become a beacon of light for the “good old days,” but no matter
how one slices it, today’s focus group-created, franken-protooled country
“superstars” like Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, the Band Perry and
their ilk are no prize pig when compared to the pioneers of the genre like Hank
Williams, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Patsy Cline, and other Nashville legends.

 

Although
firmly identified with Canada’s thriving blues scene, in truth, singer/songwriter
Jim Byrnes has more in common with the Band’s Levon Helm than with, say, Muddy
Waters. Byrnes – who was born in St. Louis, but moved to Vancouver B.C. better
than 30 years ago – and the late Helm both draw heavily from across a wide
swath of American musical history, from blues and rock to folk and country.
Both artists pursue a distinctive roots ‘n’ blues musical style and possess
warm, deep, and totally unique voices that wrap themselves around the material.

 

So, when
Byrnes decided to record an album of mostly old-school country music tunes with
his long-time musical foil, producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson,
the project doesn’t fall as far out of the singer’s wheelhouse as one might
suppose. With I Hear The Wind On The
Wires
(Black Hen), Byrnes has a firm handle on what made these songs by Ray Price, Hank
Snow, the Stanley Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot, and others timeless in nature, so
much so that Nashville
songwriters are still trying to capture
that creative lightning in the bottle today.      

 

 


Jim Byrnes – I’m Movin’ On by killbeat music

 

Byrnes
chose a true honky-tonk classic to kick off I
Hear The Wind In The Wires
, Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” a number
one hit for the Canadian singer and songwriter, a song recorded by everybody
from Snow and Willie Nelson to Ray Charles and Elvis Presley. Byrnes plays it
straight down the line, laying his twangy vocals atop a flurry of Scotty Moore-styled
guitar licks and squalls of Chris Gestrin’s funky roller-rink organ riffs,
throwing in a few hollers now and then to lively up the joint. Continuing on in
this vein, Byrnes’ spin on “City Lights” is a little more jaunty than
Ray Price’s original, but if Byrnes’ vocals sound more melancholy than
heartbroken, his anguish is punctuated by Dawson’s weeping pedal steel guitar.  

 

When Buck
Owens put his Bakersfield
sound to Harlan Howard’s “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love)” in 1960
he scored a 3 chart hit with the tune. Howard, perhaps Nashville’s last great country
songwriter, had a way of stripping a lyric down to its emotional core, and
Byrnes takes the ball and runs with it, hitting every heartfelt note with his
romantic promises, the steel guitar moaning in the background as a lonely piano
rides alongside the mid-tempo rhythm. Byrnes’ take on the song is closer to
Owens’ than Rodney Crowell’s otherwise solid 1989 cover (which did what Buck’s
couldn’t in hitting 1 on the chart), capturing
the original’s winsome spirit with a believable passion.

 

Byrnes’
duet with Colleen Rennison on “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries” is
simply precious, the performance skewing closer to the R&B styled,
1960s-era Jo Jo Benson/Peggy Scott hit than to the later Loretta Lynn/Conway
Twitty “countrypolitan” version. Rennison’s sassy, soulful vocals are
a delightful counterpoint to Byrnes’ raspy baritone, the two voices playing
perfectly off each other on what is admittedly a lighthearted bit of fluff, a real
guilty pleasure of a song. On the other end of the spectrum, Byrnes’ cover of
the 1960 Marty Robbins hit “Big Iron” is pure C&W heaven, Byrnes’
voice tailor-made for this rollicking story of an unnamed Arizona ranger with
“the big iron on his hip” who faces down outlaw Texas Red in a
gunfight only one would walk away from. With Dawson’s pleading guitar riding shotgun above
a rich instrumental backdrop, Byrnes unfolds the gripping tale and drives it to
its tragic conclusion.   

 

Switching
gears for a moment, “Sensitive Man” sounds like a vintage Ricky
Nelson track, or maybe even modern Threk Michaels, the song’s melodic
undercurrent and rolling heartbeat matched by its James Burton-styled twang ‘n’
bang stringplay and Byrnes’ conversational vocals leading out at the end.
Surprisingly, it’s a Nick Lowe composition, which you can hear elements of in
the chorus and in Byrnes’ delivery, but then again, ol’ Nick always did have
one foot in the Music City even back with the Brinsley Schwarz band. I Hear The Wind In The Wires closes out appropriately
with Hank’s 1952 hit “Honky Tonk Blues,” Byrnes retaining the
original’s bluesy underpinnings even while playing up the song’s more playful,
raucous side as Mike Sanyshyn’s fiddle rages and Gestrin’s organ chimes away
low in the mix.

 

 


Jim Byrnes – Harbor Of Love by arkpr

 

Jim Byrnes
has always included a fair number of other people’s songs on his albums –
2010’s Juno Award winning Everywhere West,
for instance, offers up great covers of R&B (Lowell Fulsom), jump blues
(Louis Jordan), and straight blues (Jimmy Reed, a major Byrnes influence) alongside
Byrnes’ own rootsy originals, and in the past he’s covered everybody from Mel
Tillis and Irving Berlin to Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters…so it’s no secret that
the man is a masterful stylist and interpreter of songs.

 

With I Hear The Wind In The Wires, however, Byrnes
delivers a true labor of love, challenging himself to try his hand in
re-creating an era of country music that, woefully, no longer exists. The
results speak for themselves, the performances of Byrnes, Dawson, and band shining brightly from the
grooves of I Hear The Wind In The Wires,
imbuing the material with the same sort of energy and passion that first
generation country music pioneers brought to it back in the day.    

IN PRAISE OF… Noel Coward

Before there was Bowie, Pulp, Ferry and
Morrissey there was Coward and his lyrical panache and wise decorum. He also
influenced Joe Strummer, Paul Weller and more.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

It might seem an uneasy fit,
cramming the class conscious cocktails-at-noon corrosive cool of Noel Coward
into a publication such as BLURT. The British playwright, composer, actor and
cabaret singer was renowned for his wit and poise, his quiet flamboyance (in
language and not dress, as a handsome tuxedo was his second skin) and frank
tart sarcasm throughout songs that spoke smugly of the eternal ball (“I Went to
a Marvelous Party”), plays that dashed madly through the moneyed byways of
Europe (Private Lives) without
breaking a sweat or losing the ash of their cigarette and all matters of
England’s manners. Something so piquant could seem out of place.

 

 

 

 

 

Know this: without Coward, much of
pop’s arch smart set would be found wanting. They would not be found at all.
Before there was David Bowie, Pulp, Bryan Ferry with or without Roxy Music and
Morrissey with or without the Smiths, there was Coward and his lyrical panache
and wise decorum, the stiff upper lip with a twist at the end like one you’d
squeeze into a martini. Sartorially too, Ferry’s suit-and-tux schtick was a
throwback to Coward’s fashionable éclat. 
Coward was the ultimate machete-sharp wordsmith, lonely in full glare of
company, bitchy in the throes of the longest embrace, caustic without losing
purpose. That sort of thing would come to influence Americans such as Ryan
Adams, Cass McCombs as well as Loudon and Rufus Wainwright. Stephin Merritt is
but a stockier baritone version of Coward with snarky new Magnetic Fields songs
such as “The Horrible Party” and “My Husband’s Pied-A-Terre” directly
influenced by the master Brit.

 

 

 

 

 

Coward didn’t just give class and
style and sarcasm and theatricality and grace to Britain’s upper classes. He did the
same to the middle and the lower echelon with his working class ethos best seen
in films such as Why We Serve and
emotional songs such as “London Pride” that easily inspired the likes of Joe
Strummer, Paul Weller, John Cooper Clarke and Billy Bragg. That earlier
Morrissey comparison – Moz’ mix of personally patrolled social justice, wonky
angst and bittersweet humor – holds the most water in terms of finding an
equitable present tense artist whose best is comparable to Coward’s
commonplace.

 

One recent BluRay package and one
re-released box set shows off the range of Coward’s demeanors, the raconteur
and the public servant – David Lean
Directs Noel Coward
(4 BluRay discs; Criterion Collection) and The Noel Coward Collection (7DVDs; BBC
America).

 

The latter, first packaged in 2007
features nineteen hors of footage from the BBC’s film and television archives
as well as over twelve hours of audio from musical performances to speeches to
interviews to radio plays. While the BBC box features an old school A-list of
Hollywood and Britain’s finest essaying Coward’s theatrical catalog including
Joan Collins performing in Tonight at
8:30
(1991), a series of eight one-act plays, light and dark; Judi Dench
and Ian Holm performing as the wartime couple Mr. and Mrs. Edgehill (1985); and Paul Scofield and Deborah Kerr in
A Song at Twilight (1982) about the
mournful secret shared between successful artists. Still, the box’s best
moments are those featuring the pithy prince himself – discussing acting or
being feted during his 70th birthday television celebration. Just
the sound of his voice is a thrill.

 

The Lean/Coward box is just as
entrancing and twice as rare. Before Lean took to the epic likes of Lawrence of Arabia, the widescreen
director made a series of intimate films with Coward, most of which captured the playwright’s hearty arbitrariness with Blithe Spirit starring Rex Harrison and
Margaret Rutherford as a novelist and medium conjuring up ghosts with
discomfort as their goal and Brief
Encounter
about a passionate affair most inconvenient. Yet along with a
lengthy list of worthy BluRay extras featuring Coward talking with the likes of
Richard Attenborough, it is the working class/warring class films such as This
Happy Breed
and, most importantly, In Which We Serve, that
sparkle. The latter features Coward’s only co-directing credit, co-starring
himself as a Royal Navy sailor and jutting back-and-forth between their time at
battle and their moments at home with the loved one. It showed an emotional
core to Coward’s often icy flagrant displays of tart whimsy and one that made
him a hero to all levels of taste.

 

 

 

CHARM TO SPARE Aimee Mann

On her
latest album, the beloved chanteuse retains her lyrical allure while
significantly ramping up her sonic smarts. Oh, and about that ‘Til Tuesday
video…

 

BY STEVE PICK

     Try loading up Aimee Mann’s seven non-Christmas solo albums
into your iPod or equivalent device and hit shuffle. Unless you’re an obsessive
fan – and Mann has her share of those who have listened to each album hundreds
of times – it’s not going to be easy to guess which songs fit on which record.
Oh, some production sounds might give away songs from Whatever or I’m With Stupid,
her two early ‘90s major label strive-for-radio records. Mann’s essential
approach, however, emerged fully formed from her stint in the ‘80s with ‘Til
Tuesday. She writes consistently strong songs, filled with rounded characters
placed in emotionally fraught situations, and dominated by her distinctive
melodic tics and incandescent pop hooks.

 

There is no narrative arc in Aimee Mann’s solo career. She
left the major labels, started her own Superego imprint, and has shifted the
emphasis in her music from guitars to keyboards. But her voice, both in its
elegant sound and its eloquent musical design, has remained front and center
for 20 years. Lacking a way to distinguish growth or reduction from album to
album, we are left to say the same things we can always say about her records.
Aimee Mann is just plain good.

 

So, Charmer wins
its way into our hearts just the same way Bachelor
No. 2
, Lost in Space, The Forgotten Arm, and  @%&*! Smilers did. The mid-tempo, intoxicating tuneful
songs, filled with keyboard flourishes, George Harrisonesque guitar solos, and
layers of overdubbed vocal harmonies and counterpoint, are as irresistible as
ever. Mann sings of the lure of the charmer who, it turns out, is as insecure
as everybody else, without quite revealing that she knows how charming she is
herself.

 

Producers have come and gone from
Mann’s life, but even distinctive stylists like Jon Brion and Joe Henry never
overwhelmed her essential tunefulness and charm. This is actually Paul Bryan’s
third time working with Mann, starting with her One More Drifter in the Snow holiday release in 2006. It sounds as
though he’s just pointing the microphones in the right direction and letting
these songs breathe on their own.

 

“Labrador”
is the first single. It’s the tale of a relationship with one person willing to
forgive any slight as long as the other keeps offering enough incentive, built
of course on the metaphor of a dog and its owner. But more, it’s got an
infectious chorus, followed by a skittering electric piano line that might as
well be the sound of the hunting dog chasing after the dropped duck described
in the song. (The video for this one is well worth watching. It has Jon Hamm
playing a sleaze-ball director who recreates shot for shot the video to ‘Til
Tuesday’s “Voices Carry.”)

 

 

 

 

 

Otherwise, picking favorite songs
on this one is akin to spinning a wheel (which, if you buy the LP, you can do
with the cover art). “Gumby” is a standout with its bold introductory hook and
intriguing setup of “Gumby, you should call your daughter again.” “Gamma Ray”
benefits from a galloping synthesizer fallout after the crunching guitars
under her three note vocal hook. “Living a Lie” is co-written and sung with
James Mercer of the Shins. It, too, sounds like a typically delightful Aimee
Mann song.

 

So once again, we have a very good
recording from a very talented singer, songwriter, and performer.  All the songs from Charmer fit snugly into the shuffle of her
Aimee Mann’s career.

 

 

FREE EXPRESSIONS The Dirty Three

The wizards of Oz release their first album in
seven years – and a North American tour kicks off this week.

 

BY
JENNIFER KELLY

 

 

“We tried
to record this album a couple of times, and nothing seemed to fall into place,”
says Warren Ellis, for 20 years the violinist in one of rock’s rawest chamber
orchestras, the Dirty Three. “Then we did some shows and we realized that the
way in was to kind of try and concentrate on the way we play live. We needed to
take some really basic material, really skeletal structures and explore them in
a very free way.”

 

“After
stagnating, we decided we wanted to capture
the spontaneity and energy evident in our live performances on tape,” concurs guitarist
Mick Turner, another of the band’s three founders. “So we tracked all three of
us at same time.”

 

The band’s
latest album Towards the Low Sun (Drag City)
is its first in seven years, reconvening the Aussie trio of Ellis, Turner and drummer
Jim White in an explosive, restless exploration of possibilities that pushes at
the boundaries of rock, post-rock, jazz and classical music.

 

Its first
two tracks “Furnace Skies” and “Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone,” bristle with
an uncontrollable energy, White’s drumming surging and ebbing like a natural
force, Turner’s guitar a howl in a vortex, Ellis’ violin swooping and swooning
in bruising, rough caresses. Says Ellis of this initial barrage, “I like the
risks that we took. For me, the first two tracks moved in a direction that we
might have tried to go but never kind of got there, and there’s something to me
that’s particularly exciting about them.”

 

Dirty
Three has been playing together since the early 1990s, when a friend asked
Ellis if he could put a band together to play instrumental background music at
his restaurant in Melbourne.
Ellis called White, his bandmate in a couple of other projects, and White
subsequently called Turner. The three rehearsed for a few hours in Ellis’
kitchen and worked out six songs. That night, they stretched these half dozen
musical ideas to fill the three hour gig, inaugurating Dirty Three’s
free-roving, improvisatory style. “The first time we played, we realized that
there was a freedom that we didn’t have in other bands, particularly bands with
vocalists, which takes up all the space,” Ellis remembers. “Suddenly we had
room to do what we heard on the records that we loved… jazz records and things
like that, the freedom to improvise.”

 

From these
small beginnings — all three of them earned $50 for the night and an
invitation to make it a regular occurrence – Dirty Three came into being. Since
then the band has recorded eight full-length studio albums, collaborated with
Sonic Youth, Low and Nick
Cave, and curated its own
edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2007. Its three members work on an eclectic
assortment of other projects, putting their instruments in service of the Bad
Seeds, Grinderman, PJ Harvey, Nina Nastasia and Bonnie Prince Billy, among
others. In the interim between 2005’s Cinder and Towards the Low Sun, Ellis worked
with Nick Cave on several soundtrack projects,
including The Proposition, The Assassination of Jesse James and The Road. It’s an experience that has
taught him to be flexible, he says.

 

“In that
setting, you have to make everybody happy,” Ellis says. “You get the director
or the producer saying, ‘Look, I just don’t get it. I don’t like it.’ It might
have been an idea that you really liked and you just have to let go.” He adds that
the experience of having to discard old ideas, rethink and recreate, especially
on the Jesse James soundtrack was
uncomfortable at first, but ultimately freeing. “Rather than feeling all sort
of protective about our work, we just kind of moved on, and it was incredibly
empowering and liberating. You can let go of things, and that’s a wonderful
thing.”

 

Yet at the
same time Ellis was learning to let go, he was also reaching back towards the
very earliest days of Dirty Three. “There was a period in the beginning when
Jim and I had this very fluid language,” remembers. “Then around 2000, it
disappeared and we locked into a kind of more formal kind of way of playing
together.” A “Don’t Look Back” track-by-track performance of 1998’s Ocean Songs for the popular All
Tomorrow’s Parties concert series reminded Ellis, he says, of the old dynamic. “When
we sat down to play that stuff, we kind of fell back into that way of playing,”
he says, “We started getting back into taking chances again.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim
White agrees that his drumming style shifted for Towards the Low Sun. “On the last album, Cinder, I sort of contained the drumming, and for example on Ocean Songs part of the thing of it was
bringing small sounds to become the meat. Part of what I used for that was a
technique I developed at the time using fluttering brushes,” he says.
“This time I didn’t set any strong conscious boundaries. Maybe it shares more
in approach with our first recordings. Of course, a lot has happened since then
and a lot of music has been played.”

 

Turner,
too, had been learning while he was away. After opening solo for the hotly
tipped Melbourne
duo, Kid Sam, he began to experiment with heavier guitar sounds. The brutal,
distorted tones in “Furnace Skies”, for instance, come from an altered, and
slightly damaged, amp set up. “I used a different kind of amp, and I managed to
rip the speaker,” he says. “That’s the sound on a few tracks, a dirty tone from
a ripped speaker.”  You can hear Turner’s
new set-up quite dramatically in the blistering rocker “That Was Was,” a song
originally recorded in a folky, pretty-sounding version, then blown to
smithereens for the album take.

 

Turner
also painted the album cover, as he has for all the band’s releases. The main
image, of a toothy-jawed horse rearing over a sword-wielding, crowned boy, is
both whimsical and slightly menacing, with the aura of a fairy tale gone dark
and dangerous.

 

“Mick had
a bunch of covers for us, and that one seemed the most appropriate, because it
seemed sort of congested and confused and psychotic,” says Ellis. Like the album,
he says, the cover transmits a lot of information, some of it contradictory,
none of it very overt and obvious. “The cover felt really good because it’s so
it’s hard to pin down. I think that it kind of added to the general maelstrom
and confusion that’s going on in the record,” he added. Turner says only that
the cover was conceived before the album, and that it reflects a friend’s
illness and eventual recovery.

 

Despite
all the years between albums and all the different experiences Dirty Three bring
to new recording sessions, Ellis says that they are always, unmistakably, the
Dirty Three when they come together. “The way that we play together, it’s the
only way we know how to play together,”
he says. “When we go apart and do other things, we play differently. But then
as soon as we get back together again, the same thing happens, the Dirty Three.
It’s the thing that we’re always attracted to and we’re always instantly
reminded of when we get back together.”

 

 

An edited version of this story originally
appeared in the Australian music special in BLURT print issue 12.

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Brian Searcy]

 

 

Dirty Three Tour
Dates:

Thu. Sept. 20 – Montreal, QC @ Ukrainian
Federation (Pop Montreal
Festival)

Fri. Sept. 21 – Allston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall

Sat. Sept. 22 – New York, NY
@ Pier 36 (All Tomorrow’s Parties)

Sun. Sept. 23 – Washington, DC
@ Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

Tue. Sept. 25 – Detroit, MI
@ Trinosophes (1464 Gratiot)

Wed. Sept. 26 – Chicago, IL
@ Lincoln Hall

Thu. Sept. 27 – Iowa City, IA
@ Gabe’s Oasis

Fri. Sept. 28 – Minneapolis, MN
@ Cedar Cultural Center

Mon. Oct. 1 – Vancouver,
BC @ The Biltmore Cabaret

Tue. Oct. 2 – Seattle,
WA @ Neumos

Wed. Oct. 3 – Portland,
OR @ The Mission Theater

Thu. Oct. 4 – Portland,
OR @ The Mission Theater

Sat. Oct. 6 – San Francisco, CA @ Golden Gate Park (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Festival)

Mon. Oct. 8 – Los
Angeles, CA @ Bootleg
Theater

 

 

ALL THE WAY FROM… Ian Hunter (Pt. 2)

We continue our conversation with the veteran
British rocker
, whose latest album
When
I’m President was released earlier this
month.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

BLURT: In
2009, you took part in a few Mott the Hoople reunion gigs. Sadly, the band
never made it to the States. Any chance that Mott might regroup at some future
point?

IAN HUNTER: That’s not really something I can discuss. It’s
a weird predicament. Mick Ralphs and I have the same management and the others
are managed by someone entirely different. And that person has delusion of
averageness. It’s ludicrous. Usually it’s the singer and the lead guitarist who
are reticent to participate, but in this case, it’s the other guys. And I’m not
sure if anyone really cares to see some old guys replaying the hits as it were.
We were never a huge band to begin with. Nobody’s really paying much attention
these days.

 

Still,
England’s Angel Air label has been reissuing the Mott stuff on a steady basis.
So there’s some visibility out there.

Right, and the internet helps keep the visibility going as
well.

 

 

 

 

Did you
ever expect you’d still be recording and performing all these years later?

I’m just clawing my way back of late, but I believe my band
is getting better and better. In truth, I shouldn’t be doing this at my age.
Actually, I was astonished when I found myself still out on the road at 50 or
52. I woke up one day and said, “Good God, what am I doing?” I’m still not sure
why I’m doing it, but I do it regardless. And traveling isn’t really physically
wearing. It’s really not so hard compared to what some people have to do to
earn a living.

 

What’s
your current set list like? Are you still doing any of the Mott tunes?

It’s about a third solo, a third old stuff, a third new
material. I have to do a certain amount of hits because that’s what people
expect. I know when I go to a show, I like to hear the songs I’m most familiar
with.

 

Out of
curiosity, have you kept in touch with David Bowie after all these years? He
was credited with virtually saving Mott when they were on the verge of breaking
up, so did that give you a special bond?

Not really. He’s a good bloke and we enjoyed our
collaboration. He’s a great performer, but we never formed any kind of social
bond. I was much closer to Mick Ronson. I mean, I admire him and he certainly
arrived during a crucial phase of my life, but no, we didn’t have any contact
after that.

 

The new
album finds you on yet another label. It seems that you label hop quite a bit.
Each of your previous albums has appeared under a different record company
banner, begging the question — why?

Yeah, that’s true. I dunno. The last album was on New West,
but I never spoke to them, not once. The one before that came out on Yep Roc,
which was a very good little label. But I’m quite pleased with the current
company, Slimstyle Records. They’re very up on their computer savvy and of
course that’s a technology that’s always changing. And they’re extremely keen
on the new album; I’m getting more promotion than ever.

 

Were
you surprised when the Drew Carey show tapped your song “Cleveland Rocks” as
its theme song?

I didn’t know that they did that until I saw it on TV. They
changed that theme song six or seven times before they settled on “Cleveland
Rocks.” It was great. It’s so much better when you can get a song on television
than when you get it on the radio. Financially it was a big help to me.

 

Your
book, Diary of a Rock Star, was the
definitive narrative about what life is like for a musician on tour. But it’s
been 40 years since that came out and lots of things have changed since then.
You certainly have done quite a bit in the interim. Have you ever thought of
writing a sequel?

No, not really. It ended at the end of that tour, the final
gig, and that was a natural climax for the book. It’s basically the same way
with every tour — you do the last gig and then you go home. The only reason I
did the book to begin with was because a friend of mine had a publishing
company and he needed two books to reach his yearly quota. I had this diary, so
I offered it to him. It was never meant to be a book. Honestly, everything
that’s happened since then has been pretty much been a blur. Ronno and I always
had this mantra that dictated we would never look back. We only looked forward,
always looked towards the next adventure. I think it’s important to always have
something new to look forward to.

 

So what
are you looking forward to after this album and this upcoming tour?

I’m just hoping to survive the tour! (laughs) I’m just eager
to go out and play the songs from the new album. I think it’s a great rock
album and this is a great band I’m working with. I can’t really write songs on
tour, but this album clicked right away. We had the songs ready to go, so I
told the band that we should just go in the studio and get it down. We did it
in four days and it was all done live. And when you do an album that quickly,
there’s a definite freshness about it.

 

You say
you don’t write on the road, so how do you spend your down time while on tour?

I read a lot. I love books that focus on certain historical
eras, whether it’s the ‘30s, the ‘40s or the ‘50s… anything just prior to the
modern age.

 

Do you
listen to any current music? Are there any current artists that you like?

No, not at all.  I’m
out of the habit of listening to the radio. As with anything, 95 percent of it
is crap and five percent is great.

 

How
long do you expect to be out on the road this time around?

I went out last year, and this time we expect to be out
through December and maybe into January. Some of those later dates are still
being confirmed. I find that getting to the gigs is half the effort. You make
some progress, but then you have to head back out again. I’m not really keen on
the travel part of it, and even afterwards, I find it hard to wind down. It’s
not like when I toured with Ringo.

 

What
was that like?

It was such a weird existence. You find yourself working
with musicians who you’ve never met until get together and rehearse for the
tour. A lot of times you find they’re polar opposites are as far personality is
concerned, and so you don’t really socialize very much. You find yourself on
your own a lot. I mean, Ringo is great, his people are great, his family is great…
but I wouldn’t want to do it again. The operation is a bit too polished as far
as I’m concerned.

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Ross Halfin]

 

THE DUDE ENDURES Ian Hunter (Pt. 1)

The veteran British rocker talks Mott and
his new album, dishes on former labels and former Beatles, and even dips into
history lessons and presidential politics.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The history is well documented. A promising British band
named Mott the Hoople gamely struggles to find an audience, releasing five
superb albums of unrepentant pre-punk Rock ‘n’ Roll, only to find themselves at
the precipice of break-up due to the apathy of those they were hoping to
embrace. Then their savior swoops in in the guise of David Bowie, hands them
one of the most enduring Rock anthems of all time in the form of “All the Young
Dudes,” and suddenly the band is reborn. They go on to make their masterpiece,
titling that album simply Mott to assert the fact the brand is viable again,
but subsequently dissolve a few years later, leaving their legacy intact.

 

Tousle-haired and wearing his ever-present shades, Ian
Hunter remained at the helm throughout those turbulent years that found
frustration trumped by triumph. When he left in 1973 –leaving behind not only
an exceptional stock of songs, but also a candid document of life on the road
entitled “Diary of a Rock Star” — a promising solo career lay before him.
Still, in the world of Rock, nothing is a given. His solo catalogue includes
several classics — “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” “Cleveland Rocks,” “All the Good
Ones Are Taken,” and his poignant tribute to his one-time ally in arms Mick
Ronson, “Michael Picasso” — but after 20 albums, this tireless musical
journeyman still struggles to get his due.

 

Not surprisingly then, having just turned 73 (!) this past
June, Hunter continues to opt for doing what he’s always done best — that is,
pounding out hook-laden, riff-ready, wholly unrelenting rock ‘n’ roll. These
days, the sandpapery vocals that early on sounded rather Dylan-esque come
across in a gravelly, weathered rasp, slightly vulnerable perhaps, but no less
defiant. Notably too, his just-released latest album, When I’m President, marks Hunter’s most consistent effort yet, a
solid, straight-ahead set of songs that evokes the heady days of Mott at its
prime. And despite the fact that he now wraps his rockers around more
thoughtful themes, there isn’t a single song that doesn’t boast an exceedingly
relentless refrain.

 

Blurt spoke to Hunter from his home in Connecticut, where we
found him preparing for an upcoming tour. Even though he’s lived in the U.S. for
the past 30 years, he still retains an affable, soft-spoken, unmistakable blue
collar British accent, suggesting he remains just an average bloke still
working at his trade. “The boys are downstairs rehearsing,” he remarks before
commencing the interview. Even at his age, it’s clear he’s still concerned with
craft.

 

 


Ian Hunter – When I’m President by Proper Music Distribution

 

 

BLURT:
The title of the new album gives the impression that you are immersing yourself
in the politics that precede the run-up to the presidential election. Was that
the impetus for this new set of songs?

IAN HUNTER: Not really. It’s all about the misinformation
that surrounds presidential politics these days. It’s kinda like it’s just a
bunch of guys sitting around in the pub talking. It’s either too much
information or not enough.

 

You have
a knack for coming up with these incredible ready-made refrains and these
amazing hooks that you seem to pluck right out of the ethos. In fact, ever
since that first Mott album, when you guys did your instrumental take on “You
Really Got Me,” you seem to instinctively know how to capture these snappy
refrains. So we’re going to ask you outright — how do you do it?

Maybe it’s just a quirk in my DNA. (laughs). The fact is, a
lot of it just sort of comes to me. Still, the actual ideas behind the songs
are the most difficult thing for me. Sometimes you get a line or two, maybe the
beginning of a melody. Then it all starts coming together and a basic idea
forms out of that. But the words themselves can take months.

 

So you
say it wasn’t presidential politics that inspired this album. So what did?

I read a lot of books about American history, mostly about
events that transpired between 1840 and 1915. I find it fascinating. In
England, the history is thousands of years old, but in America it’s still
relatively fresh, like you can reach out and touch it. For example, Wyatt Earp
died in 1929! I was born in 1939! That’s how close I feel to it. I find that
fascinating. It really fires up my imagination.

 

There’s
a song on the album entitled “Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse).” Being that you’re
British, it’s kind of unusual to imagine you singing about Native Americans.

I’m all for the underdog. I’m really big on that. So the
song is about the last chief to come in and surrender to the American
government. He came in after Geronimo. He led the Sioux Indians and he was
always a very honorable man. There’s never been a photo of him because he
refused to have his picture taken. He was afraid that if he did, it would cause
him to disappear. He was an incredibly courageous and principled man.

 

The
song “Saint” also seems to carry a historical thread.

Yes, it takes place in the 1860s in New York City. It was a
really exciting time, kind of like the 1960s were for our generation. The
subject of the song – the Saint – is a beggar who used to be in the Union army
during the Civil War.

 

To be
continued tomorrow, in Part Two…

 

 

OVER THE TOP Tim & Eric

Demented DIY comedy
duo continues to do a great job on
Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. View trailer below – it’s also out on DVD.

 

BY A.D.
AMOROSI

 

 

In a
small and private fashion, I felt dumb asking Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker
about how they came to make Tim &
Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
. Not because questions about Billion Dollar Movie‘s bathtub full of
fast-splattering fecal matter or a wolfen, tubercular John C. Reilly seem hard
to get a real and honest answer about. It’s not just that they got illustrious
co-stars such as Jeff Goldblum and Robert Loggia to spend the film making
ridiculous faces to go with the comedy duo’s exaggeratedly sprayed tans, fake
bridgework or boy-band hairdos.

 

 

It’s that
I’ve known Wareheim and Heidecker forever (we’re all from Philadelphia
with time spent at Temple
University’s film
department) and have talked with them throughout their joint career of Adult
Swim programs (the cut-and-paste Tom Goes
to the Mayor
, the sketch surrealism of Tim
and Eric Awesome Show! Great Job!)
film shorts (on HBO’s version of the Funny or Die website) and television
commercials they’ve directed (Old Spice).

 

 

So I
start with one that has nothing to do with the film and everything to do with
their audience, the obsessives that filled the Philly local theater on
Valentine’s Day to pre-screen the Billion
Dollar Movie
. Most of the audience knew the film’s lines, as they watched
it during its early pay-per-view run. “It’s true,” says Wareheim. “All of the
screenings have been almost one hundred percent die-hard fans. They’ve been
fun.” The screening found Tim and Eric (mostly Wareheim, as Heidecker was
ailing) making fun of their juvenile fans for lousy predictable questions with
that same audience eating up every bit of the dressing down. “You’re making me
sicker!” Heidecker yelled.

 

 

The only
screening crowd that wasn’t a T&E love fest was the infamous Sundance
screening. “Sundance was a very polarizing experience,” Wareheim says. “When we
did the Q&As, some people had never seen us before and wanted to know more
about us and others were just surely disgusted.” Sundance it seems is
uncomfortable by rampant diarrhea. “It was interesting to see where those
audiences drew the line.”

 

 

Wareheim
and Heidecker have had more guardian angels than detractors during their years
in the biz, despite the reviews of Billion
Dollar Movie.
Bob Odenkirk from Mr.
Show
was an early adopter who
pushed them to Adult Swim. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis asked that they
be written into the new film with the former acting as a co-producer with his
Funny or Die partner Adam McKay. John C. Reilly was so into playing a hacking,
coughing man-child and mall guardian that he requested a special costume. “He
didn’t let our wardrobe department fit him for an outfit,” says Wareheim. “John
insisted that we go to the junior’s shop and buy him boy’s clothing.”

 

 

Sure,
these pros love T&E because they’re hilarious, but also for their business
acumen. “With Bob Odenkirk a lot of it came down to our presentation,” says
Wareheim, stifling a laugh. “I cobbled together a DVD
of our stuff when I was still working at Urban Outfitters in Philly, hating my
life. We got together a professionally packaged thing with head shots. It
looked great. As a joke we even sent him an invoice for having mailed him the
package.

 

 

“Honestly, we really took our time with the details. He
liked our comedy but definitely dug our work ethic. We proved we were not the
lunatic wild artists our sketches presented us to be. The Funny or Die
connection came about because we made a few short films for their HBO show,
came through under budget, and everything looked great.”

 

 

Along
with Billion Dollar Movie, Tim &
Eric are currently flexing their producer muscles with two upcoming television
series, the sketch-y Comedy Bang Bang for the IFC network as well as a talk show, The
Eric Andre Show
for Adult Swim. The pair also stars in the bleak dramedy, The Comedy, a move that allows them to
stretch their acting chops beyond their own Dada-ist brand.

 

As
Wareheim and Heidecker come from a “punk rock Philly background” of DIY stuff –
lighting and editing their own shorts, printing out labels, making their own
t-shirts – the pair know how to make flicks look great for less. The cheesy
cut-and-paste AV club quality of its previous Adult Swim shows come through
every awkward pause and PowerPoint display on Billion Dollar Movie.

 

 

So it
cost something closer to $2.5 million to make Billion Dollar Movie, the premise of which finds two filmmakers run
amok, splurging up an outrageous debt as the Schlaaang Corporation and remaking
a desolate mall so to find the fortune they owe the mob in what could be a
get-rich-quick scheme. In reality, the pair wanted to tear apart the showbiz
experience with movies inside of movies that “make fun of Hollywood
douchebags.” What they didn’t quite plan on was getting some of the kings of
movie villains – Robert Loggia and William Atherton – as their on-screen
rivals.

 

“All I remember was talking to our
manager and saying wouldn’t it be great to get a Robert Loggia-like character.
The next thing you know, we got Robert Loggia. Having guys like that made the
movie real for us. We’ve always wanted to make movies, these sorts of movies,
since our days at Temple
– and did – but somehow that put us over the top.”

 

That put them over the
top? 

 

 

RESURRECTING ROADKILL Best Kissers in the World

Hail the Sound label
unearths and resurrects a “lost” album.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Of all the shitty things labels pull on bands, one of the
most egregious is when they let an album languish on a shelf. After putting out
two EPs for Sub Pop in the early 1990s, MCA picked up Best Kissers in the World
and released the Puddin’ EP and then
the full-on power pop classic Been There in 1993. BKITW’s caustic, rollicking songs made them critical darlings and
earned them rabid, slobbering fans. Three years later, the band ponied up Yellow Brick Roadkill but MCA was sold
to booze corp Seagram’s in the clusterfuck that killed a million bands. “They
used us as a swizzle stick,” says singer-guitarist Gerald Collier.

 

 

 

WHAT HAPPENED?

Roadkill went to a
warehouse. A mysterious figure sold advance promo copies of the album on eBay
for big bucks. Fans gladly paid the premium just to have songs like “Dance of
the Spanish Fire Weasel” and “Lonely Enough to Lie.” Finally one such
enthusiast, Christopher Knudson, is releasing it on his Hail the Sound label.

 

WORTH BUYING TWICE?

Collier and Knudson added a 14th song (“Ginger
Ale”) plus 18 alternate versions, rarities and unreleased songs; it’s available
as a 500-copy limited edition, and Best Kissers are stoked. “It was our best
album,” Collier says. “Had it come out, I’m fairly certain that we could have
all afforded to go back to college and make something of ourselves.”

 

NOW WHAT?

“I might buy a new sport coat or something to celebrate.”
Wait – no reunion? No new album? “I’m afraid not. You are more likely to see a Fabergé
egg.”